As we start a new year, Bring Digital’s Aimee Jones talks us through the ongoing volatility in the search results and how your opening hours could be hurting your local rankings.

Google hit by a major spam attack

Google’s search results have recently been swamped by a massive spam attack, with new domains ranking for countless keywords within a short time.

Bill Hartzer highlighted this issue through Majestic’s link graph, revealing tightly interlinked websites, a typical pattern seen in spammy link networks.

Despite the elaborate backlink creation by spammers, it’s believed that the high rankings aren’t solely due to these links. Instead, the spammers are leveraging loopholes in Google’s algorithms: how easy it is to rank for long-tail keywords, and an exploit of the recent Local Search update (more on that later).

Google is aware of this issue, as confirmed in a tweet by Danny Sullivan on December 19th. However, combatting this form of spam remains a challenge them. I’m curious to see if and how Google will address this ongoing problem.

Screenshot of Google Search Liaison post on X discussing the spam attacks in Dec 23

The SERPs-quake continues into January

After months of Google’s non-stop stream of algorithm updates, I’m happy to report that they wrapped up the November Reviews systems update on the 7th December 2023.

Google mentioned this might be the last time they spill the beans on specific updates for this system. But let’s face it, more tweaks and improvements are probably in the pipeline.

Although the Reviews update is done and dusted, most SEO tools are still showing wild fluctuations in the SERPs. Loads of sites are still bouncing around in their rankings right now. 

Google confirms ‘openness’ as local search ranking factor

Google Search Liaison confirmed ‘openness’ has recently become a strong ranking signal for local search.

Before the announcement came, there had been rumblings in the SEO world of Google placing more emphasis on a business’s listed hours of operation as a key ranking signal.

SEOs noticed the trend following the November 2023 core update. They spotted that businesses more regularly appearing as “closed” were significantly less visible in local search results.

Nothing has been confirmed as yet, but there’s a fair few whispers of a potential algorithm update that is either already underway or quickly approaching.

Screenshot of Tweet from Joy Hawkins identifying Local Search "openness" trend

In response to the discussion, Google’s Search Liaison acknowledged the observations, confirming that “openness” has recently become a stronger signal for local search.

Screenshot of Google Liaison conversation about local search rankings on X (Twitter)

There were fears this change could prompt some businesses to falsely list 24/7 operating hours for the purpose of improving their local search visibility. Thankfully, Google quickly addressed these concerns, advising against manipulating business hours because the ranking signal for openness is subject to “ongoing adjustments”.

Local search advice for businesses

Local businesses should maintain current business hours on Google Business Profiles – especially throughout the Christmas period – as it could throw your local search visibility out of whack.

For customers, maintaining accurate operational hours ensures minimal frustration, especially during the last few days available for Christmas shopping.

For businesses, accurate opening hours could increase visibility in the local pack rankings and attract more customers with near-me searches, particularly if competitors are closed.


A favourite of mine! Google has released its yearly hashtag #YearInSearch video, which highlights popular searches over the last 25 years.

You can watch the video here on X (and yes: it still bothers me that it’s X and not Twitter!).

Google officially drops Mobile Usability report, Mobile-Friendly Test tool and Mobile-Friendly Test API

Google has officially binned off the Google Search Console Mobile Usability report, the Mobile-Friendly Test tool and the Mobile-Friendly Test API. Google told us back in April 2023 that this would happen on the 1st of December, and Google confirmed it was done on the 4th.

Google says while mobile performance is still ‘critical’, in the nearly ten years since they initially launched this report, many other robust resources for evaluating mobile usability have emerged, including Lighthouse from Chrome.

So there you have it, another fabulously relevant newsletter full of SEO updates for you. If you’ve enjoyed this edition of SEMantics, keep your eyes peeled for the next!